The pontificate of Benedict XVI was full of surprises and on Monday he sprang the greatest one of all. His abdication – the first for almost 600 years – caught even the Vatican unawares. As we struggle to absorb the news, here are 10 reasons to give thanks for his papacy.
His steadfastness: In his inaugural homily Pope Benedict said: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” In 2010 there was a concerted media effort to force his resignation under the cover of the clerical abuse crisis. He held firm and it is only now, in a rare tranquil moment of his papacy, that he has chosen to resign.
His crystal-clear teaching: Even in his abdication Pope Benedict was teaching us. His lesson – that none of us should cling to power – was conveyed with characteristic force and clarity. He has left us with a rich body of teaching, contained not only within his homilies, encyclical and trilogy of books on Jesus, but also in his actions.
His reform of the liturgy: Pope Benedict’s decision to lift restrictions on the older form of the Mass was historic. As well as rescuing the Extraordinary Form from oblivion, he has renewed the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass in our parishes through the new English translation.
His programme of purification: From the Legionaries of Christ to Vatican finances, Benedict XVI has attempted to purify the Church of corruption. This concerted effort has barely registered in the media, but the Church will benefit from it for years to come.
His outreach to Islam: Pope Benedict did not shrink when his Regensburg lecture was violently misunderstood in parts of the Islamic world. While apologising for unintended offence, he stood by his address, which called for an alliance between Catholics and Muslims in our secular age. As a result, Catholic-Islamic dialogue is arguably stronger today than it has ever been. This is a vital achievement on which his successor can build.
His bravery: When Benedict XVI visited Turkey, at a time of intense Islamic anger after the Regensburg address, he refused to wear a bulletproof vest. His abdication showed an equally courageous trust in Providence.
His love of Britain: Benedict XVI felt a special affection for Britain. That is why he visited us in 2010, when so many other nations were tugging at the papal sleeve. He defended conscience in Westminster Hall as eloquently as St Thomas More, broke his own rule to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman and strengthened our resolve to resist aggressive secularism.
His creation of the ordinariate: The ordinariate for groups of former Anglicans is one of Benedict XVI’s greatest legacies. It is remarkable that he was able to create this new structure, bringing thousands of souls into full communion, without irreparably harming relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
His balance: Pope Benedict was, at first, caricatured as an “arch-conservative”. But it soon became clear that he had a daring and supple mind that confounded crude labels. In an age of unbalanced thinking, his thought stood out for its harmony and integrity. With his notion of “the hermeneutic of continuity” he reconciled fidelity to tradition with the creativity needed to meet the challenges of our time.
His humility: Even within the Church it is hard for men to renounce power and status. Pope Benedict has shown remarkable humility in sacrificing his own papal ministry for what he believes is the greater good of the Church. Let’s pray for him, and for his successor, as we have never prayed before.